Disclaimer: the rights to the anime and manga series, Naruto, are owned by Kishimoto-sensei, not me. Should he, or anyone associated with him, request it, this story will be removed from the web immediately.

Full Bloom

By Random1377

Smoke and mirrors, as any good ninja will tell you, are essential to deception and subterfuge. Nothing is quite as effective as a good smokescreen to cover your retreat, or a handy mirror to peek around a corner or reflect light to one of your teammates as a signal.

The mirror in Sakura Haruno's bedroom, however, was not currently her friend—or rather, the reflection in the mirror was something she would just as soon not see, and she had no trouble vocalizing her displeasure in the only way she knew how.


A heating vent in Sakura's baseboard carried her voice down to the kitchen, where her mother was making breakfast. "What is it, dear?" her mother shouted back, well used to the unorthodox means of communication.

"Something's wrong with my hair," Sakura yelled, pulling her bangs back and taking a closer look. "It's… something's wrong."

"There's some mousse in my bathroom," came the reply. "Hurry up or you're going to be late—and you know Tsunade-sama doesn't like to be kept waiting."

Sakura sighed. No, her mentor and trainer, the fifth Hokage of Konohagakure no Sato did not like to be kept waiting. "Impatient woman," Sakura muttered under her breath. "She has no problem showing up an hour late to a village planning meeting, but God help you if you're five minutes late for morning exercises."

Letting her hair fall back down, she moved her headband further forward, hoping it would cover her roots.

"It's not that it won't lay down right," she told her mother, "it's… it looks like it's turning red."

She blinked as a loud crash echoed up through the heat vent.


Hurrying downstairs, she found her mother in the process of cleaning up a mess of shattered pottery and scrambled eggs. "The butter's slippery this morning," she said brightly. "Eat your breakfast."

Bewildered, Sakura said, "Butter's always slippery, mom… and isn't that my breakfast you're sweeping up?"

Her mother blew an exasperated breath out of her nose. "Then have a granola bar and get going," she said irritably. "I have a million things to do today, so don't bother me."

A little taken aback by her normally doting mother's brusqueness, Sakura walked to the cupboard and did what she was told. "But, what about my hair?" she asked timidly. "Look, mom, it really does look like it's getting dar-"

"It's just the Haruno spirit," her mother cut in suddenly, her brow smoothing as she gave her daughter a serene smile. "You see, the fire of our spirit is so strong that when you reach a certain age, your hair starts to get darker—like mine, see?"

Sakura looked at her mother's flame-red hair. "So, umm… why didn't you tell me that before?" she wondered cautiously. "I mean, it doesn't seem like a big deal—and what age, exactly, does it start to change? And can I make it change back? How long will it-"

"My but you're full of questions today," her mother snapped, her brow drawing down once more. "You're going to be late. Go on now. I still have to clean up this mess."

"Alright, alright!" Sakura said nervously. "B-bye!"

With her granola bar in hand, Sakura hurried out of the house and leaned up against the front door, wondering suddenly if maybe it was her mother's time of the month. Don't know what else it could be, she thought. You can't ever tell when it's her time, either, since she's not regular. Damn it, why couldn't I have a normal family?

Absently touching her hair, Sakura started to walk, waving every now and then to the people she knew as she made her way towards the Hokage's office. She rolled her eyes, though, as she spotted Naruto Uzumaki racing up the street to intercept her. "Hi Naruto," she sighed, too annoyed and distracted to offer him a more enthusiastic greeting.

"Hi Sakura!" the blond called happily. "Going to work?"

"Well I thought I might," Sakura returned dryly. "She does live this way, after all."

Naruto nodded. "Cool—I'm going to work on my jutsu with Yamato-taichou some more. I think I'm close to getting it right."

Sakura smiled indulgently. "I'm glad, Naruto," she said honestly. "I know you've been working hard on it."

It was nice, she thought, to have something to distract her from her own troubles. Naruto was so single-minded and focused that it was sometimes scary, but of all the people the village, Sakura had spent the most time with him and was used to his behavior. Besides, he was in her cell, so she was supposed to be one of his best friends.

Unfortunately, the other one's not around, she thought glumly. I hope you DO finish your justu soon, Naruto. We need to bring him home, and I think you're the only one he'll-

"I like your hair."

"H-huh?" Sakura glanced up from her reverie. "What did you just say?"

"The little red streaks in the back," Naruto said, gesturing to the back of Sakura's head. "It's cool. I like it."

Sakura came up short. She had not even checked the back.

"I have to go."

Naruto blinked as the kunoichi turned on her heel and started back towards home. "Hey," he called, "what about the hag? Isn't she going to be mad if you don't show up?"

"Take care of that for me, can you?" Sakura asked, giving him a tight, over-the-shoulder smile. "I really need to take care of something."

Watching the girl dash off down the street, Naruto muttered, "Just take care of it for you, huh? Even if you say that, I can't just…"

He trailed off, a wicked smile coming to his lips as he glanced up at the Hokage mountain face. Perhaps, he reasoned, he could create a reason for the fifth to be elsewhere. Yes, he decided, it had been too long since he had pulled a good prank—and hey, it was a 'two birds with one stone' scenario, so why not?

Just leave it to me, Sakura-chan, he thought happily. She won't even notice that you're gone.

- - -

"Mom! Mom, are you still home?"

The Haruno house was quiet and still, but Sakura still had the oddest feeling that her mother was inside somewhere. But how do you find a ninja that doesn't want to be found? she thought ruefully. What isn't she telling me? Fires of our spirit my ass!

When silence was her only reply, Sakura lost her temper. "Damn it!" she shouted, pounding angrily on the living room wall and inadvertently putting a large, fist-shaped hole in it. "Alright," she muttered, "there's more than one way to find out!"

She strode back into the street, but unfortunately, the well meaning nin she had entrusted to distract her mentor had gone ever so slightly overboard.


Pandemonium ruled the streets as villagers ran every which way, many of them pointing towards the Hokage monument. Following one man's pointing finger, Sakura found her jaw gaping wide open as she beheld the carving of Tsunade… sporting a beard.

"What the…?"

"Citizens!" the monument boomed in a high, clearly false female's voice. "I have a new declaration for the village! From this day forward, every sixth Sunday will be take-your-friend-out-for-ramen day. I am declaring this to increase brotherly love in our fair village and to boost the local economy, as well as raise awareness on the finer points of ramen and ramen eating. Also, I…"

As the voice droned on, Sakura clenched her hands into fists. There was but one man in all of the Hidden Leaf that would declare anything to do with ramen, and only one with enough chakra to use air to hold a beard made of stone up against a mountainside and still have the energy the project his voice across the entire village.


Taking the rooftops, Sakura hopped from one house to another, closing the distance between her and the Hokage monument with the kind of speed only possible to someone genuinely pissed off.

"I'm gonna kick your ass!"

"And on the topic of taxes," the voice was saying as Sakura reached the monument, "it is my decision to—ow, hey!"

All at once, the beard fell off of the Hokage monument, corresponding nicely with a solid THUNK sound and a cry of pain from Sakura's left hand side. Following the sound, she found Naruto face down under a small pile of higher-ranking ninjas and support personnel, all of whom were cursing and shouting at the unfortunate blond.

"What… a… dumbass."

Landing on the mountainside next to the jumble of limbs and pain, Sakura found her oldest childhood friend watching the proceedings with an air of mingled amusement and disgust.

"Aww, don't break him you guys," Sakura sighed, deciding that she was better off not jumping into the fray. "Tsunade-sama's going to want him alive."

"Yeah, so she can kick his ass," Ino agreed. "God, what is this guy's deal, anyway?"

Sakura frowned, easily picking up on the note of amusement in her friend's voice. "You think this is funny," she said accusingly.

"Hell yeah!" Ino confirmed. "That was some funny shit! But damn, that idiot's gotta learn when enough is enough."

From somewhere under the pile of bodies, Naruto's muffled voice called out, "Hi Sakura-chan."

Ino rolled her eyes. "And there's the peanut gallery now."

"Where is he?!" Sakura and Ino flinched as Tsunade landed on the monument, sending a spiderweb of cracks radiating out from where her feet dug into the stone. "Where is that little bastard?"

All eyes went to the pile of ninjas, but when they climbed off one by one, those closest to the bottom ended up holding a wooden log with an orange jacket and a crudely painted smile.

Tsunade smacked her forehead.

"The next time anyone sees that idiot, slap him in the back of the head and bring him to me," the Hokage growled. "Damn it—this is cutting into my break time."

In spite of her harsh words, Sakura got the impression that the older woman was not as angry as she pretended to be. Considering the stack of papers in the Hokage's office, Sakura could definitely understand why a little time spent dealing with a playful troublemaker would be a welcome distraction rather than an annoying one.

Slowly, the crowd dispersed, leaving Sakura and Ino alone on the Hokage monument. "Well," Ino yawned, "that was fun. Guess I'll go back to the flower shop."

"You think he's ok?" Sakura wondered. "There was like, a dozen people on top of him."

Ino shrugged. "It was probably a kage bunshin anyway," she mused. "I doubt he was even here." Glancing at Sakura out of the corner of her eyes, Ino added, "But it's kind of cute that you're so concerned."

Sakura's lips compressed into a thin line. "Here's a great idea—why don't you shut up?"

Ino snorted. "See you around."


"Oh, and Forehead."

"What is it, Piggy?"

"…love the hair."


- - -

It took some time to get the remains of the rock beard cleaned up, and somehow (since everyone had left) Sakura ended up alone at the scene of the crime, tossing huge rocks left and right and pulverizing the biggest of them with her newly-learned super-strength. "Stupid Naruto," she muttered, breaking a boulder into gravel-sized fragments. "Stupid Ino. Stupid mom. God, why is everyone messing with me today?"

She kicked a rock roughly the size and shape of Naruto's head high up into the sky, taking great satisfaction in watching a flock of birds go squawking in every direction. With a deep sigh, she sat down on the last of the big boulders and looked up at the Hokage monument.

"It was pretty funny though," she told herself, allowing a small smile to grace her lips. "Guess this was your idea of a distraction, huh?"

"Actually," a voice behind her said, "yeah."

Turning on the rock, Sakura found Naruto standing half behind a nearby pine tree, his eyes downcast as he searched for the right words to explain himself.

"How long have you been there?" Sakura demanded, turning her back on him and scooping up a grapefruit sized rock. "Long enough to hear me call you stupid?"

"Er, yeah, about that long," Naruto admitted guiltily. "Maybe a little bit before, when you set up those three rocks and kicked them against the mountain while calling me a bastard."

Sakura shrugged.

"Sorry, Sakura-chan, I was just-"

"I know what you were trying to do," Sakura interrupted. "Believe me, I've known you long enough to understand the way your weird little mind works." She looked at him over her shoulder. "You can come out from behind there, you know. I'm not going to pound you this time, and if I was, a little sapling's not gonna stand in my way."

Sheepishly, Naruto came, stuffing his hands into his pockets and sitting down on the rock at Sakura's side. "It was funny though, right?" he asked timidly. "I mean, you said it was, right?"

"Hmph," Sakura snorted, folding her arms and turning her nose up at him. "It wasn't funny enough for me to clean up after you. How did you do it, anyway? What kind of jutsu was it?"

"Eh, doesn't have a name," Naruto said absently. "I've been, well, you know I've been practicing on a new jutsu, and one of the things Yamato-taichou and Kakashi-sensei taught me about was elemental chakra. So," he shrugged, "I was just playing around, and I found out I could do that."

Looking up at the Hokage monument, Sakura whispered, "It's pretty scary how powerful you are, you know? Most people couldn't even move this rock I'm sitting on, but you probably had a couple of tons of them up in the air for a good few minutes. Amazing."

Naruto blushed. "Kinda wore me out," he told her, rubbing the back of his neck and avoiding her eyes. "That's why I didn't come clean up before—I was so tired when I got away that I snuck into a little cave just outside and passed out."

Sakura nudged his ribs, earning her a look of surprise. "Don't do it again," she advised him solemnly. "Stuff like that freaks people out, and it gets me in trouble because I'm in your cell, so next time, think it through a little, alright?"

"Y-yeah, sorry."

"And clean this mess up," Sakura added suddenly. "Using strength eats up my chakra too, ya know? So finish up and get your ass over to Tsunade-sama's office!"

Naruto turned from red to green with alarming speed. "But… but she'll yell," he protested weakly, "and… and hit me!"

Planting her hands on her hips, Sakura said, "You deserve a hit or two, Naruto—you really made a mess." Her expression softened a bit as she looked at his downcast face. "But no one was hurt, and everything's back to normal, so if you clean up and apologize, she'll probably go easy on you."

"Kinda doubt that," Naruto mumbled, cracking his knuckles and facing the remaining rubble with a determined expression. "But if you think it'll help."

Sakura watched him perform the hand seals to generate his unnamed lifting jutsu, feeling more than a little impressed as unseen hands of air began hoisting the rocks into the air and tossing them around as if they were children's toys. In a matter of minutes, the entire area was clear, and Naruto released the technique, brushing a bit of dust off of his shirt and turning to give her a thumbs-up and a goofy smile.

"All clean, ma'am!"

Angry with herself for finding it so easy to return his smile, Sakura pointed towards the village. "Go see the Hokage," she said, failing miserably in her attempt to sound stern.

Looking up at the sky, Sakura realized that it was too late to go talk to the person she had been thinking of at home. Damn it, she thought tiredly, and she's going to the Wind Country for five days! This will have to wait until then.

- - -

Five days turned out to be an eternity, as every single morning Sakura rose to find more and more red in her hair. Her mother had moved from her nonsense about fiery spirits to simply ignoring her daughter when she asked about hair color, and her father had nothing more helpful to add than the fact that Sakura's mother used to have pink hair too.

It was driving Sakura crazy. Everyone in the village, or more accurately, all of the adults, seemed to know exactly what was happening to her. None of them, however, were willing to explain it to her, and based on the fact that none of them seemed concerned, Sakura deduced that at the very least, whatever was wrong with her was not life-threatening. It occurred to her at one point that this must have been what Naruto felt as a child growing up in the village, only on a much deeper level, and she vowed to be extra nice to him the next time they met.

Finally, the person she was waiting for returned, and without telling her mother, Sakura set out to visit her. Not that it was an exodus like sojourn, but it was unusual for her to visit family members all by herself. This fact was confirmed by the surprise on her aunt Shouko's face at finding her niece standing on her doorstep.

"Sakura," the woman said, "hi. What can I…" she trailed off as her eyes strayed to Sakura's hair. "Oh, I see. Come in."

"Thank you, aunty," Sakura said, her voice weak with relief as she stepped across the threshold. She could tell by the look on her aunt's face that she knew exactly why Sakura had come—and even if she was not willing to tell Sakura the whole truth, she would at least give her a sympathetic shoulder to whine on.


"Umm, some water would be nice."

"Are you sure? Some sake might help."

"Water, please…"

"Fine. Leaves more for me anyway. Come on."

Sakura followed the woman into the kitchen, staring enviously at her long, flowing blond hair. As far as she knew, Shouko was the only blond member of the Haruno family, but she also knew (from finding a bottle of peroxide in the bathroom) that Shouko dyed, so she honestly had no idea what the woman's natural color was.

"Have a seat," Shouko said, placing a glass in front of the girl and taking the chair across from her. "I'm guessing you haven't come to talk about uncle Shouji's newest earth jutsu, ne?"

"No, aunty," Sakura said, "I'm… my hair… it's…"

Shouko nodded, understanding exactly where Sakura was going.

"Did your mother give you that, 'it's the fiery spirit of the Haruno family' crap?"

Sakura nearly choked on her water. "Y-yeah," she coughed, "she did. How did you know?"

"Because our mother gave it to me when I was your age," Shouko said carefully. "You see, it's a trait that only Haruno women have, so it's not like we could ask anyone else, and our mother wasn't exactly willing to explain it to us at first."

"But why not?" Sakura wondered. "I mean, I don't do drugs or anything like that, and I'm not…" she blushed rather brightly before blurting, "I'm not sleeping around, so what does it mean?"

Shouko laced her fingers together on the table and leaned closer to her niece. "I suppose you could say it's a kind of a bloodline limit," she said. "Even when my mother finally did explain it, she had no idea how far in the family history it goes or why only the women are affected, but obviously, the result is blood red hair."

Sakura ran her fingers through her hair, pulling some of it out in front of her so she could look at it without a mirror. "Mine's halfway there already," she observed. "Can I stop it? What causes it?"


"Come again?"

Smiling at Sakura's confusion, Shouko said, "It's kind of appropriate, in your case. You see, when a Sakura tree comes into full bloom, the petals go from soft pink to flaming red. Haruno women are the same way."

There was a moment of silence before Sakura cleared her throat and made a rather nauseated face. "Aunty Shouko," she said quietly, "if you're trying to tell me about getting my period, you're a couple years too late."

Shouko threw her hands up in the air. "God, subtlety is as lost on you as it is on your mother," she groaned. "Now I know you're family. Alright, I'll spell it out so there's no misunderstanding it: like a sakura tree in full bloom, the hair of the women of the Haruno family will change when they come into full bloom—and blooming, my dear Sakura, is falling truly, deeply, unquestionably in love for the very first time in your life. That's why no one told you about it before—you haven't been in love, so your mother thought it wouldn't matter."

"Whoa, whoa!" Sakura protested, holding both hands up and nearly spilling her glass of water. "I've been in love! I've been in love with Sasuke since I knew what love was! Shouldn't I have had red hair for the last, like, seven years?"

"Man, you really are Sachi-chan's kid," Shouko muttered, rolling her eyes. Giving Sakura a sardonic look, Shouko said, "Hate to say it, Sakura-chan, but there's a difference between love and Love with a capitol L. It's like in romance novels, you know? I'm talking about the real stuff here, not a crush or idle fancy or even panty-twisting lust. This is something… deeper." Taking a sip of her drink, Shouko offered her niece an apologetic half shrug. "I'm talking about heart-stopping, crazy love, kid."

Sakura's brow furrowed. "Yeah, so am I," she countered. "And I love Sasuke!"

"Oh," Shouko laughed, "well excuse me. It seems that the extra twenty years of experience I have are meaningless when held up against your well-honed lover's fire. Excuse me for presuming to know more than you, Sakura-sama. I bow to your superior love-love senses."

Flushing with color, Sakura stared down at the table. "I'm… I'm sorry," she muttered. "It's just… I've been in love with Sasuke for years, and now you're telling me it was just my imagination? It's kind of hard to swallow."

Shouko nodded her understanding. "I'm not saying you don't love Sasuke, Sakura, but it's as simple as looking in the mirror. Literally, in this case. It is what it is."

"How do I change it back?" Sakura asked suddenly. "I mean, I'm not in love with anyone but Sasuke, so why is this happening in the first place?"

"You're not?" Shouko asked, her eyes wide with feigned amazement.

"Of course not! Who would I be in love with?"

Drumming her fingers on the table, Shouko drawled, "I couldn't begin to tell you. Met anyone new lately?"

"I will shave myself bald before any part of me admits to being in love with Sai!" Sakura said, her words almost clinking like ice.

"Oooookay, not someone new," Shouko said briskly. "Anyone you've been spending a lot of time with, then? Maybe someone just getting back from some training trip? Maybe blonde and doesn't wet himself when you crush boulders?"

"Blon- Naruto?!" Sakura nearly exploded. "He's just a friend!"

"Huh," Shouko, smirked. "I guess that makes sense. I mean, you do spend a lot of time with friends when you're a teenager, right? It's kind of odd, though, that every other girl in our family has her hair turn colors when they fall in love, but for you, it happens when you're just hanging out with your pals. We can show you off at the next family reunion. You'll be like the black sheep—or in this case, the red sheep."

"It's just not possible."

"What, the reunion? It happens every August."

"No, no," Sakura said impatiently, "the being in love with Naruto bit."

"I just know the hair Sakura. I'm not here to tell you your own feelings," Shouko shrugged. "I'm just saying that when you add it all up, it kind of looks like you might have something going with Uzumaki-kun… which goes a long way towards explaining why your mother would be skeptical about explaining things to you. I mean, not many mothers want to introduce a son-in-law with such a… unique reputation. She's a proud woman, Sakura. There's a reason why your father has her name and not the other way around."

Deciding that this topic was giving her a headache, Sakura shelved it and moved on. "Wait, what about aunt Suzuka?" she said suddenly. "She still has pink… oh… OH!"

"Now you understand," Shouko said ruefully. "Not everyone gets to meet the love of their loves, much less marry them…"

Sakura sat in thoughtful silence for a moment before quietly asking, "Aunty… what about aunt Sakurai? Her hair is black."

Shouko hesitated. "You always were a clever girl," she sighed. "Your aunt Sakurai was betrayed by her lover, and she chose to let her love for that man die inside of her."

"Ch-chose?" Sakura gasped. "That's… terrible."

"Is it?" Shouko wondered. "To open yourself fully to another—to let them into your heart and pledge yourself to them and them alone… and have them betray and shatter that trust? Is closing yourself off really such an unreasonable decision? You asked if your hair could change back, though, and you deserve the answer, so here it is." She took a deep breath. "No, Sakura, it can't. You can either accept your love, or deny it, and whatever you choose, your hair will reflect it. And just so you know, Sakurai's still able to fall in love with anyone she likes… it's just that she will never have that one, pure love ever again. That's the choice for Haruno women, Sakura, and I think that's about all the time we have to talk."

Unbidden, Sakura's eyes flicked to her aunt's hairline, and she spoke the first words that came into her mind. "What color is your hair, aunty?"

Shouko smiled and gave the younger girl a wink. "I think a better question would be what color is yours going to be?"

Sakura acknowledged the unsubtle redirection by whispering, "I don't know yet, aunty. Maybe I'll dye it like you do so no one would ever know."

Rising to her feet, Shouko patted Sakura gently on the head.

"You would."

- - -

Sakura gave her mother a lot of cold shoulder over the next week. She assumed that the woman knew why, and since she never bothered to ask for an explanation, Sakura never offered one. They were not on bad terms, exactly, but Sakura doubted they would ever be the way they were before her hair had started to change—or as aunt Shouko insisted, before she fell in love.

It was crazy—ludicrous—to think that she could be in love with Naruto! Sure, she liked him, and there was no doubt in her mind that he liked her, but love?


Looking around the crowded restaurant where she was having lunch, Sakura let out a sigh of relief, thankful that no one had heard her muttered outburst. It had been a few days since she had seen Naruto at all, but her hair just kept right on changing, which proved that unless she had the hots for Tsunade, the object of her supposed 'deep love' did not have to be around her to affect her.

But I don't love him, she thought, leaving a few bills on the table and rising to leave the restaurant. I mean, Sasuke's the one I want to be with. Naruto's always just been… Naruto!

Standing on the street corner, Sakura closed her eyes, trying to get a handle on her confused feelings. When she opened her eyes, Naruto was there, standing in front of her as if summoned by the mere thought of him. "Hey," he said happily, "what's up, Sakura-chan?"

"Naruto," Sakura replied, "umm, not much. I was just… finishing up lunch."

"Aww, really?" Naruto said with some disappointment. "I've been trying to find you for like, two hours! I think I've almost got this jutsu done, but Yamato-taichou said if I didn't take a break he was going to put me in that stupid fortress of wood thing he has and make me stay until I passed out so he'd know I got some rest." He scuffed his feet on the sidewalk. "I was gonna see if you wanted to get some ramen."

"Oh, sorry."

Naruto looked up at her, studying her face for a few moments before asking, "You ok, Sakura-chan? You look kinda, I dunno, distracted or something."

Sakura shook her head. "I'm fine," she said, offering him a feeble smile. "But you're almost done with your jutsu—that's great! I mean, you know… with… with everything that's going on around here, it can't hurt to have that done…"

She trailed off. The memory of Asuma's death was still too fresh in her mind to actually voice why it would be a good idea. Naruto, though, easily picked up on her sadness, and half raised his hand to lay it on her shoulder before slowly letting it fall to his side.

"Yeah," he murmured awkwardly. "Yeah, you're right."

Staring at the ground between them, and with her aunt's words echoing in her mind, Sakura realized just how much she had been hoping he would comfort her. It was shocking to her to actually stop and think about how nice it would feel to have his arms around her, or how warm she got when he smiled at her. It wasn't that her feelings had changed, she decided firmly, it was more that she was aware now of what, exactly, that little tickle in the pit of her stomach really meant.

Aw crap, she thought suddenly, Ino's never gonna let me hear the end of this…!

"Maybe next time I take a break, then," Naruto said, taking her silence as irritation with his continued presence. "Maybe… maybe we could get something besides ramen, if you wa-"

His offer was interrupted as Sakura silently stepped into his personal space and yanked his lips down to meet hers.

Sakura thought she should try to focus on the taste and feel of her first kiss. She had sworn, before it happened, that she would find analogies for it—feeling like Heaven, or tasting like marshmallows, or a million others she had read and heard in her lifetime… but in the end, none of them quite fit, and all she would remember was that it was with Naruto, and that it was absolutely perfect.

It wasn't long, either. There was no loss of time, or exploding fireworks, or anything even remotely close. It was nothing more than a simple show of affection for the young man she had finally acknowledged as the one she loved. When she pulled away, however, the look of amazement and delight the young ninja wore on his face left the awkward mashing of lips completely in the dust, and in a fraction of a second, Sakura knew that she had made the right decision.

Three weeks later, her hair had turned a bold, fiery red.

She didn't mind at all.

The End

Omake (courtesy of Rhine): Shouko sat sipping her sake, idly listening as the sound of a stampede descended upon her house. Though the door to her house exploded in a fine mist of splinters, she sat unperturbed with her drink. Shouko was the epitome of the Eye within the Storm. The Storm in question, however, had other plans for her aunt.

"You!" Sakura Haruno shouted, her shoulder-length hair a burnished crimson, disheveled and beautiful in its disarray.

"Yes?" Shouko asked, unable to keep from smiling just a little. Yeah, it'd been about a week since her niece's hair had finally turned red.

"You didn't tell me the carpet would match the drapes!" Sakura shouted, face flushed in outrage and embarrassment.

"Oh? Must've slipped my mind," Shouko said, anything but apologetic. "Whoopsie."

Final notes: the idea for this story was 'donated' by Rhine in an instant message conversation. He also provided the pre-reading support (largely to make sure I didn't screw it up, I think) and acted as a sounding board to make sure the plot didn't go down the wrong path and end up in sucksville.

Cherry trees, it seems, really do change from pink to red to black, depending on the season, so it's not like this just came out of nowhere… Rhine just helped me equate it to an emotional state—and he did a damn fine job of it too!